A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN 263
taking their first flight after a long interval had he seen!
He had seen the condescending smile of aces; he had seen
the brightly burning eyes of enthusiasts who once again
found themselves in their element after weary wandering
from hospital to hospital; he had seen those who had
been severely injured in a crash grow pale, show signs of
nervousness and bite their lips when they got into
the air, and he had seen the impudent inquisitiveness
of novices taking off for the first time. But in all the years
he had been acting as instructor his mirror had never
reflected an expression as strange as that which he saw
on the face of this dark, handsome senior lieutenant who
was obviously no novice at flying.
A feverish flush diffused the dark skin of the new
trainee. His lips were pale, not from fright, but from an
exalted emotion that Naumov could not explain. Who was
he? What was happening to him? Why did the mechanic
think he was drunk? When the plane took off and was
suspended in the air, the instructor had seen the trainee's
dark, stubborn, gypsy eyes, unprotected by goggles, fill
with tears, and he saw the tears roll down his cheeks and
blown away by a current of air as the plane veered.
"A bit off his nut, I think. I'll have to be careful with
him. You never can tell..." mused Naumov. But there
was something in the expression of the agitated face that
he saw reflected in the oblong mirror that fascinated the
instructor. To his own surprise be felt a lump rising in
his throat and the instruments before him became hazy.
"Take over, now," he said through the intercom, but
he merely loosened his grip on the stick and pedals, ready
to take over the instant his queer trainee showed any
weakness. Through the duplicate gear he felt the plane
being handled by the confident aad experienced hands of
the new trainee, the "airman by the grace of God", as the
Chief of Staff of the school, an old air wolf who had been
an airman as far back as the Civil War, was fond of saying.
After the first lap Naumov ceased to have any leans
about the new trainee. The plane coursed steadily, "ac-
cording to regulations". The only strange thing was that
in steering along the straight, the trainee, every now and
again, veered slightly to the right or left, up or down.
He appeared to be testing his own skill Naumov decided